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The Concussion Conundrum

Chris Owusu, by Jed Jacobsohn/Sports IllustratedSports Illustrated writer Jim Trotter has an interesting article on concussions and the NFL draft.

In the article he spotlights the problem for athletes like Stanford wideout/returner Chris Owusu.  Owusu is a talented football player who has had multiple concussions during his collegiate career.  The recurring head injuries have caused NFL teams to back away from him even though he has the ability to play at the professional level.

Concussions are difficult because there's no real way of determining who will suffer long-term injury and who will not.

Is it bad to be knocked unconscious (concussed) on the playing field?  


Is it worse to be knocked out again in a relatively short time span after the first concussion?


Does there seem to be a worsening of long-term debilitation due to repeated head inuuries over the course of a player's career.

Yes, this does seem to be true.

However, how long do you keep an athlete out of play?  At what point should you be worried about long-term neurological deficits?  When should you advise an athlete to "hang it up?"

No one really knows.

And therein lies the true difficulty.

It's one thing to pile on "greedy" team owners, win-obsessed coaches, pushy sports agents, and the like (and these groups certainly have had an interest in looking the other way regarding ahtletes and head injuries).


what about the athletes?

No one wants to see an athlete hurt, but how do you advise someone-- especially someone with an incredible talent that has been honed through sacrifice and hard work-- to walk away from a career when the predictive value of the hard data is so murky? 

You're asking them to give up their income, their sense of identity, and most likely their life focus, for a risk that might or might not be there 20 years from now.

What would you say?

I admired the owners of the UFC when they retired the great MMA fighter Chuck Liddell after he suffered a series of knockouts at the end of his career. 

But what about all the other athletes, and what about much earlier in their careers before the injuries pile up?

It's an interesting discussion and much more complex than at first glance.

Considering the huge lawsuits that in the works against the NFL, I suspect that the issue of concussions and sports will be with us for a while.

For those of you who would like some more information about concussions, here are some good links:

Center for the Study of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

Sports Legacy Institute

CDC: Concussions in Sports

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